Pubdate: Thu, 04 Jan 2001
Source: Redding Record Searchlight (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Redding Record Searchlight - E.W. Scripps
Contact:  PO Box 492397, Redding, CA 96049-2397
Author: Tim Hearden, Record Searchlight


A review of Shasta County's 6-year-old diversion program for 
substance-abusing criminals shows that people who go through the program 
are significantly less likely than other offenders to get back into trouble.

A study done for the Shasta County Superior Court found that graduates of 
what is often referred to as "drug court" commit fewer parole violations 
and are one-seventh as likely to go to state prison as are others with 
drug-related convictions.

Superior Court Judge James Ruggiero hailed the findings as proof that the 
Addicted Offender Program he started in January 1995 is nudging addicts 
into recovery and making the community safer.

"I think it confirms what we believed was occurring, but until you have the 
numbers, you don't know if it's just intuitive," said Ruggiero, who stepped 
down as the program's overseeing judge at the end of December. "I had also 
done statistics that the court kept. I felt . . . if we have an outsider 
take a look at it, we'll get an honest assessment."

The Addicted Offender Program takes people who have already been convicted 
of a nonviolent, drug-or alcohol-related felony and assigns them treatment, 
probation and other penalties in lieu of a prison sentence.

The report was compiled by Simpson College professor Carol Whitmer and 
county probation officer Jim Kuhn, who compared groups of 45 program 
graduates with 45 other offenders who did not go through the program.

The two found that program graduates were given drug tests five times more 
often than the other offenders, but the others recorded nearly as many 
"dirty" tests. The graduates committed 32 parole violations compared with 
104 for the other group, and only four of the program participants ended up 
in state prison compared with 27 - or 59 percent - of the other offenders.

Whitmer and Kuhn found program graduates committed nine new offenses - five 
of them felonies - compared with 37 new crimes committed by the others.

"This lower recidivism rate for the AOP group was a particularly profound 
finding," the two concluded.

Ruggiero began the program after learning about the drug court concept at a 
judges' conference in 1994, he said. Such courts were rare six years ago 
but are now in many California counties.

The judge said he and other legal professionals are still waiting to see 
the impact from the November passage of Proposition 36, which requires 
treatment rather than jail for nonviolent offenders convicted of drug 

Ruggiero said the Addicted Offender Program may lose some enrollees to the 
Proposition 36 treatment program, but he said the AOP, which is more 
intensive, may deal with more serious offenses.

Either way, the result will be that more lives may change.

"The impact of the program is significant on a variety of levels, and most 
significant is the impact on the individual - the change in their lives - 
and the resulting impact it has on their children, families and friends," 
Ruggiero said.

"Flowing from that," he said, "is the incredible savings for society in 
terms of decreased crime, not having to provide them with the welfare 
system because of people getting employed, not paying for costs of 
incarceration and not having to support children in Children's Protective 
Services or foster care."
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